New York Gets a List of Priests in Abuse Files

April 4, 2002


The New York Times

The Archdiocese of New York reversed course and announced
yesterday that it had given the Manhattan district attorney
a list of all its priests who had been accused in the past
of the sexual abuse of minors. It also spelled out new
guidelines for evaluating fresh accusations and backed off
an earlier decision to report cases only with an accuser's

The archdiocese has been under increasing public pressure
to follow the lead of Roman Catholic church officials
elsewhere, who have given prosecutors files about old abuse
accusations. "We did this because we believed it was the
right thing to do," said Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for
the archdiocese.

A statement from the archdiocese said the list had been
drawn from a "comprehensive review" of all available
personnel files, which date back 35 to 40 years. The
district attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau, was given a
"summary of the complaints," plus the dates and locations
of the alleged activities and the outcome of legal
proceedings, as well as the status of the accused, the
statement said.

Few details about the list were released by church
officials or by prosecutors, who were just beginning their
review, but a law enforcement official said it contained
about three dozen cases. Most involved men who had left the
priesthood, the official said yesterday. And in most cases,
the statutes of limitation have run out. It was unclear
yesterday how many of the men could be prosecuted, the
official said. Most of the victims were boys age 5 to 15,
the official said, and 90 percent of the cases came from
outside Manhattan.

The Manhattan district attorney's office has agreed to
distribute the cases to other district attorneys who hold
sway over other parts of the archdiocese's territory, which
comprises Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island and seven
northern counties. The Westchester County district
attorney, Jeanine F. Pirro, sent a letter on Tuesday on
behalf of upstate prosecutors, asking the archbishop of New
York, Cardinal Edward M. Egan, to turn over information
about the old cases.

Just three weeks ago, the archdiocese said it would not
turn over old cases to the authorities. At the time,
officials said the archdiocese did not even keep track of
the number of such cases. And in saying then that it would
start passing on new cases to the authorities, it promised
to respect the wishes of accusers who did not want their
charges disclosed to law enforcement. But in the new
section of the archdiocese's policy on sexual misconduct
going out to priests, that measure is not mentioned.

For weeks, critics had been urging Cardinal Egan to turn
over the names, as other bishops have done. Just last week,
Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., who leads
Catholics on Long Island, said he was turning over old
cases to Nassau and Suffolk county prosecutors. Another
bishop in the region, Thomas Daily of Brooklyn, has been
steadfast in refusing to give information on old cases.

Although only a small number of dioceses around the country
have released the names of accused priests to prosecutors,
others have re-evaluated their approach to sexual
misconduct charges in recent weeks. Some have posted their
abuse policies on the Web, or appealed to victims to come

There has been growing attention nationwide to cases of sex
abuse and pedophilia involving members of the clergy, amid
questions about how church officials have investigated the
complaints. Cardinal Egan in particular has been under
scrutiny over his handling of abuse cases while he was
bishop of Bridgeport from 1988 to 2000.

In March, The Hartford Courant published an article based
on lawsuits against eight priests that suggested that the
cardinal allowed several priests accused of sexually
abusing children years earlier to continue working and did
not pass on information about them to law enforcement
authorities. The cardinal has since defended his handling
of those cases.

Privately, some priests have expressed anguish that
unfounded accusations may be revived, harming the
reputations of innocent men. The release of such
information to prosecutors has fueled a sense of
abandonment among some priests, who feel church authorities
are succumbing to popular pressure rather than standing up
for the majority of priests who are innocent.

The information released to Mr. Morgenthau would appear to
be broader in scope than what he said he was seeking. In an
interview on March 13, he said he wanted to know about
cases "only if the person involved is still active in their
profession, or if it happened recently. We're just trying
to make sure the person who committed the crime is still
not active with children." He also had said that he
expected to receive reports of current crimes regardless of
the victims' wishes.

The archdiocese's statement said that "not all the
allegations have been substantiated," and included priests
who have been convicted, sued or removed from the

The cases do not include accusations against priests who
are not part of the archdiocese but who work in its
confines. Cases have also emerged around the country,
including several in the New York area, involving priests
who belong to religious orders.

Mr. Zwilling said the archdioceses's lawyers began
compiling the information last week and took it to Mr.
Morgenthau's office Tuesday.

Separately from the statement on the old cases, the
archdiocese released detailed guidelines yesterday on how
it would handle future abuse reports. The allegations must
be in writing. At least two archdiocesan officials will
interview the accused priest, who must respond in writing.
The statements then go to an advisory committee, which then
decides whether to present the matter to law enforcement -
something not required by state law, the guidelines point
out. Clergy members are exempt from the reporting of sex
abuse required of some categories, like doctors and social

Such a committee is already informally advising Cardinal
Egan, and will be expanded and made formal, Mr. Zwilling
said. It will include lawyers, judges, former prosecutors,
and possibly medical and child care professionals, he said.

Anonymous charges or rumors will go right to the committee
for review.

The announcements yesterday came a day after Mrs. Pirro
sent the letter to Cardinal Egan urging him to release all
evidence of sexual abuse involving archdiocese employees
dating back to Jan. 1, 1990. Saying she was writing on
behalf of six other district attorneys in nearby counties
in the archdiocese, she wrote that in recent days "some of
us have received information about allegations of previous
sexual misconduct by Roman Catholic priests in our
respective jurisdictions."

Mrs. Pirro, who has forcefully prosecuted sex- and
domestic-abuse cases, said she and the other prosecutors -
except Mr. Morgenthau - would be meeting with church
officials on Tuesday to discuss accusations against priests
in their areas.

The information about old cases could prove valuable in a
number of ways, prosecutors said. First, some sex abuse
offenses can be prosecuted even if the statute of
limitations appears to have run out, because of technical
rules. And when criminal cases cannot be brought, it is
still valuable for law enforcement authorities to know
about the cases, so that they can be alert to potential
child molesters.

"If there are pedophiles - who have at minimum a 50 percent
recidivist rate - then children are in continuing danger,"
Mrs. Pirro said.

Finally, "it makes the victim feel much better to have the
name out there, even if the offender is dead," said David
Clohessy, the national director of the Survivors Network of
Those Abused by Priests, a Chicago-based support group.

Mr. Clohessy called the archdiocese's actions "a step in
the right direction," but added that he and others remained
skeptical of Cardinal Egan because of his record in
Bridgeport, and suggested that the cardinal might have
acted to salvage his reputation.

The Diocese of Bridgeport, in Connecticut, is reviewing all
personnel files dating back to the founding of the diocese
49 years ago. In New Jersey, the Archdiocese of Newark is
reviewing its policy and looking at old cases involving
accusations of sexual abuse.